When one thinks Kentucky, and one thinks Memorial Day weekend, it’s not unfair to say that reggae music might be one of the last things to come to mind. That is unless you can already count yourself amongst the thousands of Kentucky Reggae Festival initiates devoted to this seemingly improbable event, which over the past nineteen years has grown from a modest Louisville Water Tower romp to the largest festival of its kind in the region.
Since 1991 the Kentucky Reggae festival has been held every Memorial Day Weekend, Saturday through Monday, and features a combination of nationally known reggae acts, authentic ethnic foods and a Caribbean market boasting a wide array of handmade crafts. Event coordinator Jennifer Washle attributes the event’s ability to carve out, “a very specific niche,” to both the, “fun-loving, peaceful nature of reggae,” and the threefold mix of shopping, dining and entertainment.
You’ll find a diverse crowd of family and friends alike, whether they be marketplace aficionados, seeking the source of the jerk spice permeating the air, or amongst the dense army of lawn-chair commandoes encircling the stage, but more varied still might just be the entertainers themselves. Of the dozen or so groups to take the stage throughout this weekend, Dem Reggae Bon and Carribean Conspiracy are both Louisville home-growns, while the rest originate from across the country and parts beyond. Amongst these, the Saturday night headliner Everton Blender is an award-winning performer from Clarendon, Jamaica.
Previous attendees might not find much overtly new here, but its the established blueprint and its the familiar faces that provide a good deal of the charm. There is an exceedingly low turnover amongst the various vendors, who hail from all over the region, some of which having attended since year one. That’s not to say everything is the same, as while you will spot Louisville standouts like Kizito Cookies, you’ll also discover newcomers like Amanda Made Jewelry, a handmade operation out of Lexington.
For all of the festival’s allure there has been a recurring spoiler in some years past. ‘The Weather!” a young woman exclaimed, when asked of her favorite thing about this year’s event. Ask around amongst the multi-year devotees for plenty of tales of years that put the festival’s ‘rain or shine’ mantra to the test. Past patrons have withstood torrential downpours, a visible tornado across the river, and yes, (as this blogger can personally attest to) a biblical-sized horde of cicadas back in 2005. Gifted with cloudless, eighty degree weather this time round, those same folks have no gripes about reapplying sunblock.
Despite all of the Kentucky Reggae Festival offerings there may be one which trumps them all: It’s still going. Those finding themselves late to the game can still enjoy a full day of music on Monday (May 30), starting at 2pm and going through 7.